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Chapter 1 - The Three Golden Apples | Chapter 2 - The Pomegranate Seeds | Chapter 3 - The Chimaera | Chapter 4 - The Golden Touch | Chapter 5 - The Gorgon's Head | Chapter 6 - The Dragon's Teeth | Chapter 7 - The Miraculous Pitcher | Chapter 8 - The Paradise of Children | Chapter 9 - The Cyclops | Chapter 11 - The Giant Builder | Chapter 12 - How Odin Lost His Eye

Chapter 3 - The Chimaera



 

Once, in the old, old times (for all the strange things which I tell you
about happened long before anybody can remember), a fountain gushed out
of a hillside, in the marvellous land of Greece. And, for aught I know,
after so many thousand years, it is still gushing out of the very
selfsame spot. At any rate, there was the pleasant fountain, welling
freshly forth and sparkling adown the hillside, in the golden sunset,
when a handsome young man named Bellerophon drew near its margin. In his
hand he held a bridle, studded with brilliant gems, and adorned with a
golden bit. Seeing an old man, and another of middle age, and a little
boy, near the fountain, and likewise a maiden, who was dipping up some
of the water in a pitcher, he paused, and begged that he might refresh
himself with a draught.

"This is very delicious water," he said to the maiden as he rinsed and
filled her pitcher, after drinking out of it. "Will you be kind enough
to tell me whether the fountain has any name?"

"Yes; it is called the Fountain of Pirene," answered the maiden; and
then she added, "My grandmother has told me that this clear fountain was
once a beautiful woman; and when her son was killed by the arrows of the
huntress Diana, she melted all away into tears. And so the water, which
you find so cool and sweet, is the sorrow of that poor mother's heart!"

"I should not have dreamed," observed the young stranger, "that so clear
a well-spring, with its gush and gurgle, and its cheery dance out of the
shade into the sunlight, had so much as one tear-drop in its bosom! And
this, then, is Pirene? I thank you, pretty maiden, for telling me its
name. I have come from a far-away country to find this very spot."

A middle-aged country fellow (he had driven his cow to drink out of the
spring) stared hard at young Bellerophon, and at the handsome bridle
which he carried in his hand.

"The watercourses must be getting low, friend, in your part of the
world," remarked he, "if you come so far only to find the Fountain of
Pirene. But, pray, have you lost a horse? I see you carry the bridle in
your hand; and a very pretty one it is with that double row of bright
stones upon it. If the horse was as fine as the bridle, you are much to
be pitied for losing him."

"I have lost no horse," said Bellerophon, with a smile. "But I happen to
be seeking a very famous one, which, as wise people have informed me,
must be found hereabouts, if anywhere. Do you know whether the winged
horse Pegasus still haunts the Fountain of Pirene, as he used to do in
your forefathers' days?"

But then the country fellow laughed.

Some of you, my little friends, have probably heard that this Pegasus
was a snow-white steed, with beautiful silvery wings, who spent most of
his time on the summit of Mount Helicon. He was as wild, and as swift,
and as buoyant, in his flight through the air, as any eagle that ever
soared into the clouds. There was nothing else like him in the world.
He had no mate; he never had been backed or bridled by a master; and,
for many a long year, he led a solitary and a happy life.

Oh, how fine a thing it is to be a winged horse! Sleeping at night, as
he did, on a lofty mountain-top, and passing the greater part of the day
in the air, Pegasus seemed hardly to be a creature of the earth.
Whenever he was seen, up very high above people's heads, with the
sunshine on his silvery wings, you would have thought that he belonged
to the sky, and that, skimming a little too low, he had got astray among
our mists and vapours, and was seeking his way back again. It was very
pretty to behold him plunge into the fleecy bosom of a bright cloud, and
be lost in it, for a moment or two, and then break forth from the other
side. Or, in a sullen rain storm, when there was a gray pavement of
clouds over the whole sky, it would sometimes happen that the winged
horse descended right through it, and the glad light of the upper region
would gleam after him. In another instant, it is true, both Pegasus and
the pleasant light would be gone away together. But anyone that was
fortunate enough to see this wondrous spectacle felt cheerful the whole
day afterward, and as much longer as the storm lasted.

In the summer time, and in the beautifullest of weather, Pegasus often
alighted on the solid earth, and, closing his silvery wings, would
gallop over hill and dale for pastime, as fleetly as the wind. Oftener
than in any other place, he had been seen near the Fountain of Pirene,
drinking the delicious water, or rolling himself upon the soft grass of
the margin. Sometimes, too (but Pegasus was very dainty in his food), he
would crop a few of the clover blossoms that happened to be sweetest.

To the Fountain of Pirene, therefore, people's great-grandfathers had
been in the habit of going (as long as they were youthful and retained
their faith in winged horses), in hopes of getting a glimpse at the
beautiful Pegasus. But, of late years, he had been very seldom seen.
Indeed, there were many of the country folks, dwelling within half an
hour's walk of the fountain, who had never beheld Pegasus, and did not
believe that there was any such creature in existence. The country
fellow to whom Bellerophon was speaking chanced to be one of those
incredulous persons.

And that was the reason why he laughed.

"Pegasus, indeed!" cried he, turning up his nose as high as such a flat
nose could be turned up--"Pegasus, indeed! A winged horse, truly! Why,
friend, are you in your senses? Of what use would wings be to a horse?
Could he drag the plough so well, think you? To be sure, there might be
a little saving in the expense of shoes; but then, how would a man like
to see his horse flying out of the stable window?--yes, or whisking him
up above the clouds, when he only wanted to ride to mill? No, no! I
don't believe in Pegasus. There never was such a ridiculous kind of a
horse fowl made!"

"I have some reason to think otherwise," said Bellerophon, quietly.

And then he turned to an old, gray man, who was leaning on a staff, and
listening very attentively, with his head stretched forward and one hand
at his ear, because, for the last twenty years, he had been getting
rather deaf.

"And what say you, venerable sir?" inquired he, "In your younger days, I
should imagine, you must frequently have seen the winged steed!"

"Ah, young stranger, my memory is very poor!" said the aged man. "When I
was a lad, if I remember rightly, I used to believe there was such a
horse, and so did everybody else. But, nowadays, I hardly know what to
think, and very seldom think about the winged horse at all. If I ever
saw the creature, it was a long, long while ago; and, to tell you the
truth, I doubt whether I ever did see him. One day, to be sure, when I
was quite a youth, I remember seeing some hoof tramps round about the
brink of the fountain. Pegasus might have made those hoof marks; and so
might some other horse."

"And have you never seen him, my fair maiden?" asked Bellerophon of the
girl, who stood with the pitcher on her head, while this talk went on.
"You certainly could see Pegasus, if anybody can, for your eyes are very
bright."

"Once I thought I saw him," replied the maiden, with a smile and a
blush. "It was either Pegasus or a large white bird, a very great way up
in the air. And one other time, as I was coming to the fountain with my
pitcher, I heard a neigh. Oh, such a brisk and melodious neigh as that
was! My very heart leaped with delight at the sound. But it startled me,
nevertheless; so that I ran home without filling my pitcher."

"That was truly a pity!" said Bellerophon.

And he turned to the child, whom I mentioned at the beginning of the
story, and who was gazing at him, as children are apt to gaze at
strangers, with his rosy mouth wide open.

"Well, my little fellow," cried Bellerophon, playfully pulling one of
his curls, "I suppose you have often seen the winged horse."

"That I have," answered the child, very readily. "I saw him yesterday,
and many times before."

"You are a fine little man!" said Bellerophon, drawing the child closer
to him. "Come, tell me all about it."

"Why," replied the child, "I often come here to sail little boats in the
fountain, and to gather pretty pebbles out of its basin. And sometimes,
when I look down into the water, I see the image of the winged horse in
the picture of the sky that is there. I wish he would come down, and
take me on his back, and let me ride him up to the moon! But, if I so
much as stir to look at him, he flies far away out of sight."

And Bellerophon put his faith in the child, who had seen the image of
Pegasus in the water, and in the maiden, who had heard him neigh so
melodiously, rather than in the middle-aged clown, who believed only in
cart horses, or in the old man who had forgotten the beautiful things of
his youth.

Therefore, he haunted about the Fountain of Pirene for a great many days
afterward. He kept continually on the watch, looking upward at the sky,
or else down into the water, hoping forever that he should see either
the reflected image of the winged horse, or the marvellous reality. He
held the bridle, with its bright gems and golden bit, always ready in
his hand. The rustic people who dwelt in the neighbourhood, and drove
their cattle to the fountain to drink, would often laugh at poor
Bellerophon, and sometimes take him pretty severely to task. They told
him that an able-bodied young man like himself ought to have better
business than to be wasting his time in such an idle pursuit. They
offered to sell him a horse, if he wanted one; and when Bellerophon
declined the purchase, they tried to drive a bargain with him for his
fine bridle.

Even the country boys thought him so very foolish that they used to have
a great deal of sport about him, and were rude enough not to care a fig,
although Bellerophon saw and heard it. One little urchin, for example,
would play Pegasus, and cut the oddest imaginable capers, by way of
flying; while one of his schoolfellows would scamper after him, holding
forth a twist of bulrushes, which was intended to represent
Bellerophon's ornamental bridle. But the gentle child, who had seen the
picture of Pegasus in the water, comforted the young stranger more than
all the naughty boys could torment him. The dear little fellow, in his
play hours, often sat down beside him, and, without speaking a word,
would look down into the fountain and up toward the sky, with so
innocent a faith that Bellerophon could not help feeling encouraged.

Now you will, perhaps, wish to be told why it was that Bellerophon had
undertaken to catch the winged horse. And we shall find no better
opportunity to speak about this matter than while he is waiting for
Pegasus to appear.

If I were to relate the whole of Bellerophon's previous adventures, they
might easily grow into a very long story. It will be quite enough to say
that, in a certain country of Asia, a terrible monster, called a
Chimaera, had made its appearance, and was doing more mischief than could
be talked about between now and sunset. According to the best accounts
which I have been able to obtain, this Chimaera was nearly, if not quite,
the ugliest and most poisonous creature, and the strangest and
unaccountablest, and the hardest to fight with, and the most difficult
to run away from, that ever came out of the earth's inside. It had a
tail like a boa-constrictor; its body was like I do not care what; and
it had three separate heads, one of which was a lion's, the second a
goat's, and the third an abominably great snake's. And a hot blast of
fire came flaming out of each of its three mouths! Being an earthly
monster, I doubt whether it had any wings; but, wings or no, it ran like
a goat and a lion, and wriggled along like a serpent, and thus contrived
to make about as much speed as all the three together.

Oh, the mischief, and mischief, and mischief that this naughty creature
did! With its flaming breath, it could set a forest on fire, or burn up
a field of grain, or, for that matter, a village, with all its fences
and houses. It laid waste the whole country round about, and used to eat
up people and animals alive, and cook them afterward in the burning oven
of its stomach. Mercy on us, little children, I hope neither you nor I
will ever happen to meet a Chimaera!

While the hateful beast (if a beast we can anywise call it) was doing
all these horrible things, it so chanced that Bellerophon came to that
part of the world, on a visit to the king. The king's name was Iobates,
and Lycia was the country which he ruled over. Bellerophon was one of
the bravest youths in the world, and desired nothing so much as to do
some valiant and beneficent deed, such as would make all mankind admire
and love him. In those days, the only way for a young man to distinguish
himself was by fighting battles, either with the enemies of his country,
or with wicked giants, or with troublesome dragons, or with wild beasts,
when he could find nothing more dangerous to encounter. King Iobates,
perceiving the courage of his youthful visitor, proposed to him to go
and fight the Chimaera, which everybody else was afraid of, and which,
unless it should be soon killed, was likely to convert Lycia into a
desert. Bellerophon hesitated not a moment, but assured the king that he
would either slay this dreaded Chimaera, or perish in the attempt.

But, in the first place, as the monster was so prodigiously swift, he
bethought himself that he should never win the victory by fighting on
foot. The wisest thing he could do, therefore, was to get the very best
and fleetest horse that could anywhere be found. And what other horse in
all the world was half so fleet as the marvellous horse Pegasus, who had
wings as well as legs, and was even more active in the air than on the
earth? To be sure, a great many people denied that there was any such
horse with wings, and said that the stories about him were all poetry
and nonsense. But, wonderful as it appeared, Bellerophon believed that
Pegasus was a real steed, and hoped that he himself might be fortunate
enough to find him; and, once fairly mounted on his back, he would be
able to fight the Chimaera at better advantage.

And this was the purpose with which he had travelled from Lycia to
Greece, and had brought the beautifully ornamented bridle in his hand.
It was an enchanted bridle. If he could only succeed in putting the
golden bit into the mouth of Pegasus, the winged horse would be
submissive, and would own Bellerophon for his master, and fly
whithersoever he might choose to turn the rein.

But, indeed, it was a weary and anxious time, while Bellerophon waited
and waited for Pegasus, in hopes that he would come and drink at the
Fountain of Pirene. He was afraid lest King Iobates should imagine that
he had fled from the Chimaera. It pained him, too, to think how much
mischief the monster was doing, while he himself, instead of righting
with it, was compelled to sit idly poring over the bright waters of
Pirene, as they gushed out of the sparkling sand. And as Pegasus came
thither so seldom in these latter years, and scarcely alighted there
more than once in a lifetime, Bellerophon feared that he might grow an
old man, and have no strength left in his arms nor courage in his heart,
before the winged horse would appear. Oh, how heavily passes the time,
while an adventurous youth is yearning to do his part in life, and to
gather in the harvest of his renown! How hard a lesson it is to wait!
Our life is brief, and how much of it is spent in teaching us only this!

Well was it for Bellerophon that the gentle child had grown so fond of
him, and was never weary of keeping him company. Every morning the child
gave him a new hope to put in his bosom, instead of yesterday's withered
one.

"Dear Bellerophon," he would cry, looking up hopefully into his face, "I
think we shall see Pegasus to-day!"

And, at length, if it had not been for the little boy's unwavering
faith, Bellerophon would have given up all hope, and would have gone
back to Lycia, and have done his best to slay the Chimaera without the
help of the winged horse. And in that case poor Bellerophon would at
least have been terribly scorched by the creature's breath, and would
most probably have been killed and devoured. Nobody should ever try to
fight an earth-born Chimaera, unless he can first get upon the back of an
aerial steed.

One morning the child spoke to Bellerophon even more hopefully than
usual.

"Dear, dear Bellerophon," cried he, "I know not why it is, but I feel as
if we should certainly see Pegasus to-day!"

And all that day he would not stir a step from Bellerophon's side; so
they ate a crust of bread together, and drank some of the water of the
fountain. In the afternoon, there they sat, and Bellerophon had thrown
his arm around the child, who likewise had put one of his little hands
into Bellerophon's. The latter was lost in his own thoughts, and was
fixing his eyes vacantly on the trunks of the trees that overshadowed
the fountain, and on the grapevines that clambered up among their
branches. But the gentle child was gazing down into the water; he was
grieved, for Bellerophon's sake, that the hope of another day should be
deceived, like so many before it; and two or three quiet tear-drops fell
from his eyes, and mingled with what were said to be the many tears of
Pirene, when she wept for her slain children.

But, when he least thought of it, Bellerophon felt the pressure of the
child's little hand, and heard a soft, almost breathless, whisper.

"See there, dear Bellerophon! There is an image in the water!"

The young man looked down into the dimpling mirror of the fountain, and
saw what he took to be the reflection of a bird which seemed to be
flying at a great height in the air, with a gleam of sunshine on its
snowy or silvery wings.

"What a splendid bird it must be!" said he. "And how very large it
looks, though it must really be flying higher than the clouds!"

"It makes me tremble!" whispered the child. "I am afraid to look up into
the air! It is very beautiful, and yet I dare only look at its image in
the water. Dear Bellerophon, do you not see that it is no bird? It is
the winged horse Pegasus!"

Bellerophon's heart began to throb! He gazed keenly upward, but could
not see the winged creature, whether bird or horse; because, just then,
it had plunged into the fleecy depths of a summer cloud. It was but a
moment, however, before the object reappeared, sinking lightly down out
of the cloud, although still at a vast distance from the earth.
Bellerophon caught the child in his arms, and shrank back with him, so
that they were both hidden among the thick shrubbery which grew all
around the fountain. Not that he was afraid of any harm, but he dreaded
lest, if Pegasus caught a glimpse of them, he would fly far away, and
alight in some inaccessible mountain-top. For it was really the winged
horse. After they had expected him so long, he was coming to quench his
thirst with the water of Pirene.

Nearer and nearer came the aerial wonder, flying in great circles, as
you may have seen a dove when about to alight. Downward came Pegasus, in
those wide, sweeping circles, which grew narrower, and narrower still,
as he gradually approached the earth. The nigher the view of him, the
more beautiful he was, and the more marvellous the sweep of his silvery
wings. At last, with so light a pressure as hardly to bend the grass
about the fountain, or imprint a hoof tramp in the sand of its margin,
he alighted, and, stooping his wild head, began to drink. He drew in the
water, with long and pleasant sighs, and tranquil pauses of enjoyment;
and then another draught, and another, and another. For, nowhere in the
world, or up among the clouds, did Pegasus love any water as he loved
this of Pirene. And when his thirst was slaked, he cropped a few of the
honey blossoms of the clover, delicately tasting them, but not caring to
make a hearty meal, because the herbage just beneath the clouds, on the
lofty sides of Mount Helicon, suited his palate better than this
ordinary grass.

After thus drinking to his heart's content, and in his dainty fashion
condescending to take a little food, the winged horse began to caper to
and fro, and dance as it were, out of mere idleness and sport. There
never was a more playful creature made than this very Pegasus. So there
he frisked, in a way that it delights me to think about, fluttering his
great wings as lightly as ever did a linnet, and running little races,
half on earth and half in air, and which I know not whether to call a
flight or a gallop. When a creature is perfectly able to fly, he
sometimes chooses to run, just for the pastime of the thing; and so did
Pegasus, although it cost him some little trouble to keep his hoofs so
near the ground. Bellerophon, meanwhile, holding the child's hand,
peeped forth from the shrubbery, and thought that never was any sight so
beautiful as this, nor ever a horse's eyes so wild and spirited as those
of Pegasus. It seemed a sin to think of bridling him and riding on his
back.

Once or twice, Pegasus stopped, and snuffed the air, pricking up his
ears, tossing his head, and turning it on all sides, as if he partly
suspected some mischief or other. Seeing nothing, however, and hearing
no sound, he soon began his antics again.

At length--not that he was weary, but only idle and luxurious--Pegasus
folded his wings, and lay down on the soft green turf. But, being too
full of aerial life to remain quiet for many moments together, he soon
rolled over on his back, with his four slender legs in the air. It was
beautiful to see him, this one solitary creature, whose mate had never
been created, but who needed no companion, and, living a great many
hundred years, was as happy as the centuries were long. The more he did
such things as mortal horses are accustomed to do, the less earthly and
the more wonderful he seemed. Bellerophon and the child almost held
their breaths, partly from a delightful awe, but still more because they
dreaded lest the slightest stir or murmur should send him up, with the
speed of an arrow flight, into the farthest blue of the sky.

Finally, when he had had enough of rolling over and over, Pegasus turned
himself about, and, indolently, like any other horse, put out his fore
legs, in order to rise from the ground; and Bellerophon, who had guessed
that he would do so, darted suddenly from the thicket, and leaped
astride of his back.

Yes, there he sat, on the back of the winged horse!

But what a bound did Pegasus make, when, for the first time, he felt the
weight of a mortal man upon his loins! A bound, indeed! Before he had
time to draw a breath Bellerophon found himself five hundred feet aloft,
and still shooting upward, while the winged horse snorted and trembled
with terror and anger. Upward he went, up, up, up, until he plunged into
the cold misty bosom of a cloud, at which, only a little while before,
Bellerophon had been gazing, and fancying it a very pleasant spot. Then
again, out of the heart of the cloud, Pegasus shot down like a
thunderbolt, as if he meant to dash both himself and his rider headlong
against a rock. Then he went through about a thousand of the wildest
caprioles that had ever been performed either by a bird or a horse.

I cannot tell you half that he did. He skimmed straight forward, and
sideways, and backward. He reared himself erect, with his fore legs on a
wreath of mist, and his hind legs on nothing at all. He flung out his
heels behind, and put down his head between his legs, with his wings
pointing right upward. At about two miles' height above the earth, he
turned a somerset, so that Bellerophon's heels were where his head
should have been, and he seemed to look down into the sky, instead of
up. He twisted his head about, and, looking Bellerophon in the face,
with fire flashing from his eyes, made a terrible attempt to bite him.
He fluttered his pinions so wildly that one of the silver feathers was
shaken out, and floating earthward, was picked up by the child, who kept
it as long as he lived, in memory of Pegasus and Bellerophon.

But the latter (who, as you may judge, was as good a horseman as ever
galloped) had been watching his opportunity, and at last clapped the
golden bit of the enchanted bridle between the winged steed's jaws. No
sooner was this done, than Pegasus became as manageable as if he had
taken food all his life out of Bellerophon's hand. To speak what I
really feel, it was almost a sadness to see so wild a creature grow
suddenly so tame. And Pegasus seemed to feel it so, likewise. He looked
round to Bellerophon, with the tears in his beautiful eyes, instead of
the fire that so recently flashed from them. But when Bellerophon patted
his head, and spoke a few authoritative yet kind and soothing words,
another look came into the eyes of Pegasus; for he was glad at heart,
after so many lonely centuries, to have found a companion and a master.

Thus it always is with winged horses, and with all such wild and
solitary creatures. If you can catch and overcome them, it is the surest
way to win their love.

While Pegasus had been doing his utmost to shake Bellerophon off his
back, he had flown a very long distance; and they had come within sight
of a lofty mountain by the time the bit was in his mouth. Bellerophon
had seen this mountain before, and knew it to be Helicon, on the summit
of which was the winged horse's abode. Thither (after looking gently
into his rider's face, as if to ask leave) Pegasus now flew, and,
alighting, waited patiently until Bellerophon should please to dismount.
The young man, accordingly, leaped from his steed's back, but still held
him fast by the bridle. Meeting his eyes, however, he was so affected by
the gentleness of his aspect, and by the thought of the free life which
Pegasus had heretofore lived, that he could not bear to keep him a
prisoner, if he really desired his liberty.

Obeying this generous impulse he slipped the enchanted bridle off the
head of Pegasus, and took the bit from his mouth.

"Leave me, Pegasus!" said he. "Either leave me, or love me."

In an instant, the winged horse shot almost out of sight, soaring upward
from the summit of Mount Helicon. Being long after sunset, it was now
twilight on the mountain-top, and dusky evening over all the country
round about. But Pegasus flew so high that he overtook the departed day,
and was bathed in the upper radiance of the sun. Ascending higher and
higher, he looked like a bright speck, and, at last, could no longer be
seen in the hollow waste of the sky. And Bellerophon was afraid that he
should never behold him more. But, while he was lamenting his own folly,
the bright speck reappeared, and drew nearer and nearer, until it
descended lower than the sunshine; and, behold, Pegasus had come back!
After this trial there was no more fear of the winged horse's making his
escape. He and Bellerophon were friends, and put loving faith in one
another.

That night they lay down and slept together, with Bellerophon's arm
about the neck of Pegasus, not as a caution, but for kindness. And they
awoke at peep of day, and bade one another good-morning, each in his own
language.

In this manner, Bellerophon and the wondrous steed spent several days,
and grew better acquainted and fonder of each other all the time. They
went on long aerial journeys, and sometimes ascended so high that the
earth looked hardly bigger than--the moon. They visited distant
countries, and amazed the inhabitants, who thought that the beautiful
young man, on the back of the winged horse, must have come down out of
the sky. A thousand miles a day was no more than an easy space for the
fleet Pegasus to pass over. Bellerophon was delighted with this kind of
life, and would have liked nothing better than to live always in the
same way, aloft in the clear atmosphere; for it was always sunny weather
up there, however cheerless and rainy it might be in the lower region.
But he could not forget the horrible Chimaera, which he had promised King
Iobates to slay. So, at last, when he had become well accustomed, to
feats of horsemanship in the air, and could manage Pegasus with the
least motion of his hand, and had taught him to obey his voice, he
determined to attempt the performance of this perilous adventure.

At daybreak, therefore, as soon as he unclosed his eyes, he gently
pinched the winged horse's ear, in order to arouse him. Pegasus
immediately started from the ground, and pranced about a quarter of a
mile aloft, and made a grand sweep around the mountain-top, by way of
showing that he was wide awake, and ready for any kind of an excursion.
During the whole of this little flight, he uttered a loud, brisk, and
melodious neigh, and finally came down at Bellerophon's side, as lightly
as ever you saw a sparrow hop upon a twig.

"Well done, dear Pegasus I well done, my sky-skimmer!" cried
Bellerophon, fondly stroking the horse's neck. "And now, my fleet and
beautiful friend, we must break our fast. To-day we are to fight the
terrible Chimaera."

As soon as they had eaten their morning meal, and drank some sparkling
water from a spring called Hippocrene, Pegasus held out his head, of his
own accord, so that his master might put on the bridle. Then, with a
great many playful leaps and airy caperings, he showed his impatience to
be gone; while Bellerophon was girding on his sword, and hanging his
shield about his neck, and preparing himself for battle. When everything
was ready, the rider mounted, and (as was his custom, when going a long
distance) ascended five miles perpendicularly, so as the better to see
whither he was directing his course. He then turned the head of Pegasus
toward the east, and set out for Lycia. In their flight they overtook an
eagle, and came so nigh him, before he could get out of their way, that
Bellerophon might easily have caught him by the leg. Hastening onward at
this rate, it was still early in the forenoon when they beheld the lofty
mountains of Lycia, with their deep and shaggy valleys. If Bellerophon
had been told truly, it was in one of those dismal valleys that the
hideous Chimaera had taken up its abode.

Being now so near their journey's end, the winged horse gradually
descended with his rider; and they took advantage of some clouds that
were floating over the mountain-tops, in order to conceal themselves.
Hovering on the upper surface of a cloud, and peeping over its edge,
Bellerophon had a pretty distinct view of the mountainous part of Lycia,
and could look into all its shadowy vales at once. At first there
appeared to be nothing remarkable. It was a wild, savage, and rocky
tract of high and precipitous hills. In the more level part of the
country, there were the ruins of houses that had been burnt, and, here
and there, the carcasses of dead cattle, strewn about the pastures where
they had been feeding.

"The Chimaera must have done this mischief," thought Bellerophon. "But
where can the monster be?"

As I have already said, there was nothing remarkable to be detected, at
first sight, in any of the valleys and dells that lay among the
precipitous heights of the mountains. Nothing at all; unless, indeed, it
were three spires of black smoke, which issued from what seemed to be
the mouth of a cavern, and clambered sullenly into the atmosphere.
Before reaching the mountain-top, these three black smoke wreaths
mingled themselves into one. The cavern was almost directly beneath the
winged horse and his rider, at the distance of about a thousand feet.
The smoke, as it crept heavily upward, had an ugly, sulphurous, stifling
scent, which caused Pegasus to snort and Bellerophon to sneeze. So
disagreeable was it to the marvellous steed (who was accustomed to
breathe only the purest air), that he waved his wings, and shot half a
mile out of the range of this offensive vapour.

But, on looking behind him, Bellerophon saw something that induced him
first to draw the bridle, and then to turn Pegasus about. He made a
sign, which the winged horse understood, and sunk slowly through the
air, until his hoofs were scarcely more than a man's height above the
rocky bottom of the valley. In front, as far off as you could throw a
stone, was the cavern's mouth, with the three smoke wreaths oozing out
of it. And what else did Bellerophon behold there?

There seemed to be a heap of strange and terrible creatures curled up
within the cavern. Their bodies lay so close together that Bellerophon
could not distinguish them apart; but, judging by their heads, one of
these creatures was a huge snake, the second a fierce lion, and the
third an ugly goat. The lion and the goat were asleep; the snake was
broad awake, and kept staring around him with a great pair of fiery
eyes. But--and this was the most wonderful part of the matter--the three
spires of smoke evidently issued from the nostrils of these three heads!
So strange was the spectacle, that, though Bellerophon had been all
along expecting it, the truth did not immediately occur to him, that
here was the terrible three-headed Chimaera. He had found out the
Chimaera's cavern. The snake, the lion, and the goat, as he supposed them
to be, were not three separate creatures, but one monster!

The wicked, hateful thing! Slumbering as two-thirds of it were, it still
held, in its abominable claws, the remnant of an unfortunate lamb--or
possibly (but I hate to think so) it was a dear little boy--which its
three mouths had been gnawing, before two of them fell asleep!

All at once, Bellerophon started as from a dream, and knew it to be the
Chimaera. Pegasus seemed to know it, at the same instant, and sent forth
a neigh that sounded like the call of a trumpet to battle. At this sound
the three heads reared themselves erect, and belched out great flashes
of flame. Before Bellerophon had time to consider what to do next, the
monster flung itself out of the cavern and sprung straight toward him,
with its immense claws extended, and its snaky tail twisting itself
venomously behind. If Pegasus had not been as nimble as a bird, both he
and his rider would have been overthrown by the Chimaera's headlong rush,
and thus the battle have been ended before it was well begun. But the
winged horse was not to be caught so. In the twinkling of an eye he was
up aloft, half way to the clouds, snorting with anger. He shuddered,
too, not with affright, but with utter disgust at the loathsomeness of
this poisonous thing with three heads.

The Chimaera, on the other hand, raised itself up so as to stand
absolutely on the tip end of its tail, with its talons pawing fiercely
in the air, and its three heads sputtering fire at Pegasus and his
rider. My stars, how it roared, and hissed, and bellowed! Bellerophon,
meanwhile, was fitting his shield on his arm, and drawing his sword.

"Now, my beloved Pegasus," he whispered in the winged horse's ear, "thou
must help me to slay this insufferable monster; or else thou shalt fly
back to thy solitary mountain peak without thy friend Bellerophon. For
either the Chimaera dies, or its three mouths shall gnaw this head of
mine, which has slumbered upon thy neck!"

Pegasus whinnied, and, turning back his head, rubbed his nose tenderly
against his rider's cheek. It was his way of telling him that, though he
had wings and was an immortal horse, yet he would perish, if it were
possible for immortality to perish, rather than leave Bellerophon
behind.

"I thank you, Pegasus," answered Bellerophon. "Now, then, let us make a
dash at the monster!"

Uttering these words, he shook the bridle; and Pegasus darted down
aslant, as swift as the flight of an arrow, right toward the Chimaera's
threefold head, which, all this time, was poking itself as high as it
could into the air. As he came within arm's length, Bellerophon made a
cut at the monster, but was carried onward by his steed, before he could
see whether the blow had been successful. Pegasus continued his course,
but soon wheeled round, at about the same distance from the Chimaera as
before. Bellerophon then perceived that he had cut the goat's head of
the monster almost off, so that it dangled downward by the skin, and
seemed quite dead.

But, to make amends, the snake's head and the lion's head had taken all
the fierceness of the dead one into themselves, and spit flame, and
hissed, and roared, with a vast deal more fury than before.

"Never mind, my brave Pegasus!" cried Bellerophon. "With another stroke
like that, we will stop either its hissing or its roaring."

And again he shook the bridle. Dashing aslantwise, as before, the winged
horse made another arrow-flight toward the Chimaera, and Bellerophon
aimed another downright stroke at one of the two remaining heads, as he
shot by. But this time, neither he nor Pegasus escaped so well as at
first. With one of its claws, the Chimaera had given the young man a deep
scratch in his shoulder, and had slightly damaged the left wing of the
flying steed with the other. On his part, Bellerophon had mortally
wounded the lion's head of the monster, insomuch that it now hung
downward, with its fire almost extinguished, and sending out gasps of
thick black smoke. The snake's head, however (which was the only one now
left), was twice as fierce and venomous as ever before. It belched forth
shoots of fire five hundred yards long, and emitted hisses so loud, so
harsh, and so ear-piercing, that King Iobates heard them, fifty miles
off, and trembled till the throne shook under him.

"Well-a-day!" thought the poor king; "the Chimaera is certainly coming to
devour me!"

Meanwhile Pegasus had again paused in the air, and neighed angrily,
while sparkles of a pure crystal flame darted out of his eyes. How
unlike the lurid fire of the Chimaera! The aerial steed's spirit was all
aroused, and so was that of Bellerophon.

"Dost thou bleed, my immortal horse?" cried the young man, caring less
for his own hurt than for the anguish of this glorious creature, that
ought never to have tasted pain. "The execrable Chimaera shall pay for
this mischief with his last head!"

Then he shook the bridle, shouted loudly, and guided Pegasus, not
aslantwise as before, but straight at the monster's hideous front. So
rapid was the onset that it seemed but a dazzle and a flash before
Bellerophon was at close gripes with his enemy.

The Chimaera, by this time, after losing its second head, had got into a
red-hot passion of pain and rampant rage. It so flounced about, half on
earth and partly in the air, that it was impossible to say which element
it rested upon. It opened its snake jaws to such an abominable width,
that Pegasus might almost, I was going to say, have flown right down its
throat, wings outspread, rider and all! At their approach it shot out a
tremendous blast of its fiery breath, and enveloped Bellerophon and his
steed in a perfect atmosphere of flame, singeing the wings of Pegasus,
scorching off one whole side of the young man's golden ringlets, and
making them both far hotter than was comfortable, from head to foot.

But this was nothing to what followed.

When the airy rush of the winged horse had brought him within the
distance of a hundred yards, the Chimaera gave a spring, and flung its
huge, awkward, venomous, and utterly detestable carcass right upon poor
Pegasus, clung round him with might and main, and tied up its snaky tail
into a knot! Up flew the aerial steed, higher, higher, higher, above the
mountain-peak, above the clouds, and almost out of sight of the solid
earth. But still the earth-born monster kept its hold, and was borne
upward, along with the creature of light and air. Bellerophon,
meanwhile, turning about, found himself face to face with the ugly
grimness of the Chimaera's visage, and could only avoid being scorched to
death, or bitten right in twain, by holding up his shield. Over the
upper edge of the shield, he looked sternly into the savage eyes of the
monster.

But the Chimaera was so mad and wild with pain that it did not guard
itself so well as might else have been the case. Perhaps, after all,
the best way to fight a Chimaera is by getting as close to it as you can.
In its efforts to stick its horrible iron claws into its enemy the
creature left its own breast quite exposed; and perceiving this,
Bellerophon thrust his sword up to the hilt into its cruel heart.
Immediately the snaky tail untied its knot. The monster let go its hold
of Pegasus, and fell from that vast height downward; while the fire
within its bosom, instead of being put out, burned fiercer than ever,
and quickly began to consume the dead carcass. Thus it fell out of the
sky, all a-flame, and (it being nightfall before it reached the earth)
was mistaken for a shooting star or a comet. But, at early sunrise, some
cottagers were going to their day's labour, and saw, to their
astonishment, that several acres of ground were strewn with black ashes.
In the middle of a field, there was a heap of whitened bones, a great
deal higher than a haystack. Nothing else was ever seen of the dreadful
Chimaera!

And when Bellerophon had won the victory, he bent forward and kissed
Pegasus, while the tears stood in his eyes.

"Back now, my beloved steed!" said he. "Back to the Fountain of Pirene!"

Pegasus skimmed through the air, quicker than ever he did before, and
reached the fountain in a very short time. And there he found the old
man leaning on his staff, and the country fellow watering his cow, and
the pretty maiden filling her pitcher.

"I remember now," quoth the old man, "I saw this winged horse once
before, when I was quite a lad. But he was ten times handsomer in those
days."

"I own a cart horse worth three of him!" said the country fellow. "If
this pony were mine, the first thing I should do would be to clip his
wings!"

But the poor maiden said nothing, for she had always the luck to be
afraid at the wrong time. So she ran away, and let her pitcher tumble
down, and broke it.

"Where is the gentle child," asked Bellerophon, "who used to keep me
company, and never lost his faith, and never was weary of gazing into
the fountain?"

"Here am I, dear Bellerophon!" said the child, softly.

For the little boy had spent day after day on the margin of Pirene,
waiting for his friend to come back; but when he perceived Bellerophon
descending through the clouds, mounted on the winged horse, he had
shrunk back into the shrubbery. He was a delicate and tender child, and
dreaded lest the old man and the country fellow should see the tears
gushing from his eyes.

"Thou hast won the victory," said he, joyfully, running to the knee of
Bellerophon, who still sat on the back of Pegasus. "I knew thou
wouldst."

"Yes, dear child!" replied Bellerophon, alighting from the winged horse.
"But if thy faith had not helped me, I should never have waited for
Pegasus, and never have gone up above the clouds, and never have
conquered the terrible Chimaera. Thou, my beloved little friend, hast
done it all. And now let us give Pegasus his liberty."

So he slipped off the enchanted bridle from the head of the marvellous
steed.

"Be free, forevermore, my Pegasus!" cried he, with a shade of sadness in
his tone. "Be as free as thou art fleet!"

But Pegasus rested his head on Bellerophon's shoulder, and would not be
persuaded to take flight.

"Well then," said Bellerophon, caressing the airy horse, "thou shalt be
with me as long as thou wilt; and we will go together, forthwith, and
tell King Iobates that the Chimaera is destroyed."

Then Bellerophon embraced the gentle child, and promised to come to him
again, and departed. But, in after years, that child took higher flights
upon the aerial steed than ever did Bellerophon, and achieved more
honourable deeds than his friend's victory over the Chimaera. For, gentle
and tender as he was, he grew to be a mighty poet!


chimaera - from Google Images.jpg
chimaera - from Google Images.jpg